Miami is a melting pot of Latin cultures at the southern tip of the U.S. state of Florida. Cuban influence is particularly heavy, as reflected in the dining, music and fashion of Miami. From Little Havana to South Beach and beyond, Miami has something for everyone!
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Miami Beach is technically a separate city from Miami, but is often what you picture in your mind when you think of Miami. Miami Beach is located on a barrier island that separates the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. Probably the most famous part of Miami Beach is South Beach, the mecca for nightlife, trendy dining and amazing beaches.
Art Deco Historic District
Within the South Beach neighborhood, you’ll find the Art Deco Historic District, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. Thanks in large part to a huge hurricane in 1026 that was followed by a building boom through the 1940’s, South Beach is now home to over 800 Art Deco buildings. You can sign up for a tour of the entire district, and many of the Art Deco buildings are now hotels you can stay at, such as the Breakwater or the Cadillac Hotel.
Lincoln Road Mall
For a modern side of Miami beach, check out Lincoln Road Mall, Miami’s most popular outdoor shopping strip. Lincoln Road Mall is a mile-long pedestrian only promenade with great shopping and dining for Miami locals and visitors. Lincoln Road Mall is perfectly positioned in the heart of Miami Beach near hotels and beaches, so it’s easy to visit and offers lots of options. On a hot day, grab a frozen yogurt, stake out a seat and people watch as long as you want.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
This palatial estate on Biscayne Bay is the former home of James Deering, who made his fortune with International Harvester. Today, the home and gardens are owned by Miami-Dade County and are open to the public. The estate was built in the early 1900’s and Italian Renaissance influence, including the gardens. There is a cafe on site, with a gourmet menu of salads, sandwiches, wine and beer. You can tour the house, the gardens or take an audio tour of both. You won’t want to miss the unobstructed views of Biscayne Bay or the massive carved aquatic structure that serves as a breakwater. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Miami, Vizcaya Gardens is the place to go.
From another branch of the Deering family tree, Miami also has the Charles Deering Estate, a 444-acre environmental, archaeological and historical preserve along Biscayne Bay, which is now part of the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation department. Visitors to the Deering Estate can enjoy canoe rides, butterfly hikes, guided nature tours or tour two of the historic houses on the property.
Jungle Island is an interactive zoological park on Watson Island in Miami, and is a favorite South Florida landmark. Jungle Island is home to some of the world’s most exotic and rare animals. At Jungle Island, you can also sign up for the VIP tour, where you will be able to pet an Andean Condor, play with Madagascar Lemursand feed kangaroos and giant turtles.
(Note: Jungle Island is currently closed to repair damage from Hurricane Irma, but is expected to re-open in the Spring of 2018.)
Wynwood Art District
This Miami neighborhood is home to over 70 galleries, museums and art collections, as well as one of the largest open-air art installations in the world. Instagrammers will definitely want to put this neighborhood on their Miami bucket list! Every second Saturday of the month, there is an evening art walk that starts at 6pm. More than 400 businesses in the neighborhood, including cafes, food trucks, galleries and shops, open their doors after hours, creating Miami’s largest block party. If you are looking for street art in Miami, come to the Wynwood Art District.
As you might imagine, Little Havana is Miami’s Cuban neighborhood, brimming with Latin American art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and cigar stores. The heart of Little Havana is Calle Ocho (8th Street.) You can visit Domino Park, where locals gather to play dominoes or catch an independent film at the historic Tower Theater. You’ll definitely want to sample Cuban cuisine while you’re in Little Havana, and if you’re up for it, visit the area nightclubs for salsa dancing.
If your visit to Miami is your only time in Florida, you definitely should take a day trip from Miami to visit the Florida Keys. The Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching for about 120 miles from Miami down to Key West. Key West is about 3 1/2 hours driving from Miami, but there are many great stops along the way so this is best done as an overnight trip from Miami. If you only have time for a day trip from Miami, you can explore some of the Florida Keys closer to Miami, such as Key Largo, Islamadora and Plantation Key. The drive through the Florida Keys is really something to be experienced, as you will drive on long causeways over the ocean and reefs between keys. For the full experience, make sure you rent a convertible!
Everglades National Park
When many people think of Florida, aside from the beaches, they picture alligator-filled swamps. That’s what you’ll find at Everglades National Park. The best way to see the Everglades from Miami is to visit Shark Valley, on the Eastern side of Everglades National Park. At Shark Valley, you can take a tram tour to see tons of alligators and birds, climb the observation tower for an aerial view, or rent bikes for a leisurely ride through the area. While the alligators are intimidating, they are generally pretty lethargic and do not pose a threat unless threatened. Using common sense, biking or walking through Shark Valley is a pretty safe activity.
Frost Museum of Science
The Frost Museum of Science is a world-class science museum and is a great place to escape the heat of Miami for an afternoon. The hands-on facility is dedicated to sharing the power of science through weather exhibits, technology exhibits, a planetarium and wildlife centers. Special programs include an overnight experience for families and children.
Key Biscayne is another island town just off the coast of Miami, wedged between two large parks – Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park. Key Biscayne has some of the best beaches in Miami, and exclusive resorts such as the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne. The surrounding parks have preserved beaches as well, so you can spend the day beach-hopping on Key Biscayne. This is also the site of the Cape Florida lighthouse, where guided tours of the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage are given twice daily.
Just south of Miami, in Florida City, you’ll find the Coral Castle, an eccentric limestone structure that comprises over 1,100 tons of coral rock sculpted into various shapes such as walls, tables, chairs, a sundial and a water fountain. The site was built over a 20-year period by a Latvian immigrant and is now a popular tourist attraction near Miami. The Coral Castle is open for tours, and there is a gift shop on site as well.
The Venetian Pool is a historic public swimming pool built in the 1920’s that still attracts swimmers today. On the southern edge of Miami, in Coral Gables, this unique public pool is fed by an underground aquifer, and has two waterfalls and cave-like grottoes. The developer who envisioned this destination wanted a Mediterranean experience, which you will see in the architecture and surrounding gardens. Children under 3 are not allowed at the pool, and there is a maximum capacity that limits the number of visitors allowed at any given time.
The Bayside Marketplace is a festival marketplace located on Biscayne Bay in the heart of downtown Miami. This outdoor entertainment complex features shopping, dining and live entertainment. This is also where boat tours, bike tours, water taxis and fishing charters originate. Be sure to get out on the water at least once during your visit to Miami, whether for an evening dinner cruise or a narrated cruise past the homes of the rich and famous on Fisher Island.
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